I stumbled across “The Amulet of Samarkand” in February, and am surprised that I haven’t heard of it before. This is the first book in the “Bartimaeus Trilogy”, and so far I’m impressed. I particularly liked how Stroud used POV (Point of View).
Typically, most authors pick a POV and stick to it (for good reason), however Stroud very successfully worked in a mix. There are basically two POVs, and he changes back and forth between them in each chapter. In the Bartimaeus chapters, Stroud uses first-person. In the Nathaniel ones, he uses third-person. At first this threw me off, but after a few chapters it became quite clear and quite cleaver.
An eleven-year-old boy named Nathaniel–or at least that’s his true name–forced to become an apprentice magician at a very young age, struggles in a love deprived home. He spends his days studying and memorizing the art of magic. Because his master is so mediocre, he wishes to keep Nathaniel below him, and so the boy hides the fact that he is years ahead of the game.
One day, when challenged to a battle of wits by an arrogant wizard named Lovelace, Nathaniel quickly proves his knowledge of the art. Rather than showing recognition, Lovelace gets angry and makes a fool of Nathaniel by calling an imp to physically assault him. This begins a chain of events between Nathaniel and Lovelace, which only gets thicker and thicker as the story progresses.
Ultimately, Nathaniel summons a djinni (pronounced jin-ee) named Bartimaeus to steal an object from Lovelace, only to find that the Amulet of Samarkand is going to be used as an object for the master wizard’s dreaded plot. The boy and the djinni find themselves dependent on each other in order to bring down the evil wizard.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I would even go so far as to say that I loved it! Many of the arrogant comments that came from Bartimaeus forced a literal LOL out of me, and the characters are both wonderfully and dreadfully (in a good sense) designed. Great tensions between them all. I will absolutely read the next book in the series, and am looking forward to doing so soon.
Things to consider:
I would say this one is appropriate for pre-teens and teens, and though more geared towards boys, girls should be able to enjoy it too. There’s no sexual content to speak of, and the only real cursing is creatively covered by the author’s wit. There is some violence, but nothing above and beyond what is appropriate for this kind of story. I can see the biggest problem some people might have is with the summoning; bringing forth entities, called djinni, to do the will of the wizard. Some people in the book even call them demons, but keep in mind that, although this does take place in a real-world scenario, many of the things in this world are fantastical and not meant to be taken literally. Keeping this “make believe” stance in mind I don’t have a problem with it. The only thing I didn’t really like were the few references to the biblical character Solomon; nothing truly offensive, but I just don’t like it when authors add things to biblical characters for the sake of a story.
Opportunities for discussion:
This is a wonderful opportunity to talk to your children about pride, for which C.S. Lewis calls, “The Great Sin”. The evidence of this is clearly spoken in this story and it shows the great folly behind it too. Another great topic is revenge, and how it only becomes more and more entangling. Also, because of the points I mentioned in “things to consider”, this is a good time to let your kids know that messing with the spirit world is no game–something that even this tale demonstrates.